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Fiji farmers turn back to traditional crops

Friday 19 August 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – Fiji farmers are being encouraged to return to growing traditional crops and using traditional farming practises.

Minister of Agriculture Inia Seruiratu says there had been a shift away from resilient traditional food crops over the years due to different market demands.

A workshop held in Nadi last week addressed the need for improving resilience in the agriculture sector absorbing lessons learned from Cyclone Winston which struck Fiji in February.

As well as killing 42 people, the cyclone caused widespread destruction to the country’s infrastructure and farming sector.

Seruiratu said Fiji’s farmers have had to learn the hard way. and are looking at a return to farming traditional crops that were less susceptible to damage from severe storms.

“In terms of building resilience in our farmers, we are looking at the traditional farming systems and of course traditional crops as well given the changing weather patterns and what we’re experiencing right now.

“Particularly interesting is the traditional crops our people used to grow. But unfortunately, it’s like I said, most of the farmers have got ridden of these crops because of the new demand-driven commodities that we have.

He said farmers in Fiji, in the wake of Cyclone Winston, saw the value of going back to traditional crops?

“Yes definitely. But unfortunately they have been lessons learned the hard way. Most of our farmers have totally neglected the traditional crops which our grandfathers used to have. And these are the ones that helped them post-disaster, in terms of their food security.

“So it’s a matter of the farmers getting access to these again and of course, start planting these. They have learned. They have definitely learned a lot.

“We are always preparing for the next one, the next storm. We’ve just completed a round of consultations on lessons learned.

“This is done at the community level and then the government administration level, the agencies, the clusters and just last week we concluded the national debriefs on lessons learned.

“And of course, for Fiji, it’s about proactiveness, learning from the lessons of the past to help us prepare for the future.

“So, we want to be better prepared, be proactive, so that the effects will be minimal come the next cyclone.”

Organic farmers could even be exporting high value disaster resilient crops in the near future.

The farmers from eight villages on Viti Levu’s northern coastoline have been engaged in an organic farming program implemented by the Foundation of Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND) Fiji and funded by USAID Pacific Climate Change Fund (PACAM).

FRIEND Fiji founder Sashi Kiran said there was a great demand for organic products in the local and international markets.

The organisation produces and packages different varieties of tea leaves, spices and jams which are sold to local and international clients.

Kiran said soil testing and organic farming workshops had been carried out at the villages over the past two months.

“We want to ensure that all of these farms are organic. So there will be no use of chemicals at all.

“We come back to the villages with our results and basically teach them some of the best farming practices while at the same time encouraging them to revert to the traditional form of farming.

“There is a traditional system that already exists and we are working within those systems to be able to incorporate our own ideas and advice and also empower the villagers to take over the whole operation of their farm.”

Ra Provincial Council Roko Tui Mosese Rakoroi said the people of Nakorotubu would benefit greatly from the programme.

- RNZI/Fiji Times